- California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher called the indictment of a Russian national linked to the National Rifle Association “ridiculous” and part of a “deep state” attempt to undermine President Donald Trump’s credibility.
- Rohrabacher is one of the most Russia-friendly congressmen and has met with Russia-linked figures on several occasions.
- He met Maria Butina, the Russian national who was charged, when he travelled to Moscow in August 2015.
- Rohrabacher also dined with Butina’s former boss and close associate last year, who he called “conservatives’ favourite Russian.”
Republican California Rep. Dana Rohrabacher is reportedly not happy with the indictment this week of a Russian national and gun rights activist with ties to the National Rifle Association.
Maria Butina was charged Tuesday with two counts related to conspiracy and acting as an unregistered agent of the Russian government. A hearing in her case is scheduled for Wednesday.
“It’s ridiculous,” Rohrabacher told Politico, referring to the indictment brought by the Department of Justice. “It’s stupid. She’s the assistant of some guy who is the head of the bank and is a member of their Parliament. That’s what we call a spy? That shows you how bogus this whole thing is.”
Rohrabacher also suggested the indictment was part of a “deep state” attempt to undermine President Donald Trump’s credibility.
The indictment says Butina worked at the direction of a high-level Russian government official who was previously a member of the Russian parliament and later a top official at the Russian Central Bank.
The official is not named, but the description fits Alexander Torshin, a Russian gun-rights advocate and a close ally of Russian President Vladimir Putin. The US sanctioned Torshin in April.
The document outlines extensive contacts between Butina and the Russian official, including a conversation about the official’s plans to “meet with a US Congressman during a Congressional Delegation trip to Moscow in August 2015.”
Rohrabacher told Politico he was part of that delegation and that he could be the congressman referenced in the indictment, but that he wasn’t sure.
Both Torshin and Butina have deep ties to the NRA.
In April, Rohrabacher told Yahoo News Torshin was “sort of the conservatives’ favourite Russian. The two dined together last year.
“He’s someone who understands our system,” Rohrabacher said. “His approach is, ‘I agree with you Americans: People should have a right to own guns. There should be religious freedom. The whole problem is with radical Muslims.'”
“We were able to have a very good exchange,” he added.
Rohrabacher has met with Russia-linked figures on several occasions:
- He reportedly met with the Russian lawyer and lobbyist Natalia Veselnitskaya in April 2016. She attended the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with then-Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, the president’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Trump’s eldest son Donald Trump Jr.
- He met with WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange in August 2017 to brief him on the Veselnitskaya meeting and link Assange up with US officials.
- In 2013, he met with Manafort and a former US congressman who is now a lobbyist.
- He and his former staff director were accused last year of violating the Magnitsky Act – a 2012 law that blacklists Russians suspected of human rights abuses – when they tried to get Russia’s deputy general prosecutor removed from the US sanctions list in 2016.
- He and another congressman dined with Torshin and other members of Russia’s delegation to the National Prayer Breakfast last year. Torshin was ultimately booted from the event after a White House aide spotted his name on the guest list and alerted others to Torshin’s alleged illicit activities.
Rohrabacher said he has not been contacted by the special counsel Robert Mueller and doesn’t think he will be.
‘It appears the Russians, you know, infiltrated the NRA’
Butina, meanwhile, has been cultivating her own ties with American gun-rights activists, like Republican strategist Paul Erickson, who she has been acquainted with since at least 2013.
Erickson appears to fit the description of an individual denoted as “US Person 1” in an affidavit that was submitted along with a criminal complaint against Butina last week.
The affidavit said Butina and this individual worked together to arrange introductions to other Americans who are influential in US politics, “including an organisation promoting gun rights … for the purpose of advancing the agenda of the Russian Federation.”
The affidavit also said Butina and the Russian official worked to establish a “back channel” between Russia and US politicians.
The affidavit lists another individual, “US Person 2,” described as a US citizen who was included in a series of email communications in 2016 and 2017. Butina allegedly told this person that the Russian official was “very much impressed by you” and that the “Russians will support the efforts from our side.”
In another email, sent on October 4, 2016, US Person 1 allegedly said to an acquaintance, “Unrelated to specific presidential campaigns, I’ve been involved in securing a VERY private line of communication between the Kremlin and key [GOP] leaders through, of all conduits, the [NRA].”
The NRA has been under heightened scrutiny from congressional Russia investigators since last year. McClatchy also reported in January that the FBI is probing whether Russia attempted to use the NRA as a vessel to funnel Russian money into the 2016 campaign.
Last year, the NRA was a central topic of interest when Fusion GPS cofounder Glenn Simpson testified before the House Intelligence Committee.
At one point, California Rep. Jackie Speier asked Simpson why Russia appeared so interested in the NRA.
“It appears the Russians, you know, infiltrated the NRA,” Simpson said. “And there is more than one explanation for why. But I would say, broadly speaking, it appears that the Russian operation was designed to infiltrate conservative organisations.”
Simpson added that Fusion had spent “a lot of time” investigating Torshin, who has been accused, among other things, of money laundering.
“He is one of the more important figures, but, you know, another woman with whom he was working, Maria Butina, also was a big Trump fan in Russia, and then suddenly showed up here and started hanging around the Trump transition after the election,” Simpson said.
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